Sunday, April 17, 2005

Soul Train To Pakistan

Nobel-laureate Toni Morrison's lyrical solo, Jazz, songfully defines practitioners of the artform thus:

Blues man. Black and bluesman. Blacktherefore blue man.
Everybody knows your name.

Black. Blue. Black & Blue. Black therefore Blue. That's Jazz -- where the memory of a once-chained people still lives. It is this memory that keeps the music real, and makes it profoundly important in America's pantheon of innovation.

James Baldwin once said: Music is our witness, and our ally. The beat is the confession which recognizes, changes and conquers time. Then, history becomes a garment we can wear and share, and not a cloak in which to hide; and time becomes a friend.

He's right of course, but not just about music -- literature and art and cinema and building are all born of our society and politics. Through them, we hold a mirror to our broken world and ensure that we never forget.

This is why we're often puzzled at the discordance between India's politics and our culture. For example, where partition's aftermath remains an oozing political trauma for us, C-grade cinema apart, our high culture (such as it is) remains largely oblivious to this. To the extent there is such expression, our cricket&bollywood-obsessed youth are likely illiterate in it. How many of them do we think have read Bhishma Sahni or Khushwant Singh?

Instead of folding our shattered land's memory into innovative music and cutting words, we've drowned it in hollow applause of the forgetful at Feroze Shah Kotla. This is a shame because --absent enduring cultural means of memory -- once our parents' generation is gone, we'll no longer remember the betrayal of partition. If that happens, our art will stand in the dock.

What a sad day that'd be for our generation, that -- for ringtones and pipelines -- deliberately forgot the trauma of our parents.

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